Tag Archives: autobiography

FGC #521 Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

CRASH TIMEI’m very disappointed in the gaming community. My beef du jour? Nobody ever told me that Crash Bandicoot was so… fuzzy.

I am a child of videogames. One of my most vivid early memories was seeing Super Mario Bros. for the first time, and I associate friends, family, and lovers with games that were relevant to those people. My first best friend and I had a child-sized fistfight over Rampage. My grandfather owned and enjoyed (and shared) a Gameboy. My first girlfriend claimed she was going to burn my Final Fantasy 7 shirt (admittedly, I probably should have changed said shirt more often than once a month). But, speaking of first girlfriends and the occasional Final Fantasy, like anyone that has ever grown up, I was once a teenager. It’s sad, but true! And during my later teenage years, (hm… how to put this without sounding as creepy as possible) my lifelong burning love of videogames degenerated to mere embers (nailed it). Nintendo had lost its luster in the N64 age, and I had, for the first time in my life, dropped my Nintendo Power subscription. Other gaming platforms simply didn’t capture my attention like the ones that had brought me Mario and Zelda, and modern interpretations of old, migrated franchises were often weird and scary. Mega Man Legends? Legend of Mana? What is even happening there? To best illustrate my general anti-gaming sentiment at the time, I reserved Final Fantasy 7 with the same kind of gusto most people reserve for their wedding night in 1997, but, by 2000, the release of Final Fantasy 9 hit me with such a wet thud that I barely even purchased the title on its release day. What? Just because I didn’t much care for videogames for a year or so didn’t mean I didn’t still buy games. I just bought less!

AridBut if I had to point at another problem I, a surly teenager raging against the machine (the N64 is a machine), had with gaming at the time, I would likely name the Playstation 1 and Sony’s general… everything. At the turn of the 21st Century, there was a significant marketing push to assert that videogames were not “just for kids”, and were actually for dignified, mature adults that wanted to steer digital teenagers into fighting God. Oh! And skateboards! The Playstation was for mature adults that wanted to ride skateboards straight into an angry God’s gaping maw. Radical! It was bullshit. It was bullshit when Nintendo tried to pivot to “Play it Loud”, it was bullshit when Sega screamed their brand in your face, and it was bullshit when Sony decided to promote every other Playstation release as mature gaming simply because there were a few more polygons involved in Lara’s bra. But I was a teenager when Playstation was riding high on the maturity hog (his name is Buffus), so I bounced off that advertising campaign like Zero repelling off a wall (still bought those Mega Man X games…). Playstation is trying to be cool? Dude, Mario is cool enough, so I’m just going to grab 120 stars for the 10,000th time.

But Mario was not cool. And the number one person… marsupial… thing… saying that was Crash Bandicoot.

I never played the Crash Bandicoot games. Why? Because I was pissed at Crash Bandicoot. It didn’t matter if the Crash games were the best thing since Jumping Flash, their advertising campaign pissed me right off. We were told “Do not underestimate the power of the Playstation” while “real life” Crash Bandicoot and friends terrorized convenience stores. What was obviously some human in a Crash mascot costume insulted “plumber boy” and grabbed a megaphone to shout about the expansiveness of the Playstation library. He accused nuns of foul play! He teamed up with Robbie Knievel for motorcycle stunts! He endorsed Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizzas for some reason! And his kart racing game was promoted with an ad campaign featuring roller derbies, Crash chauffeuring rock stars/hot women, and one commercial that was a thinly veiled parody of Cops. Mario Kart 64 was amazing, and it only had a commercial that involved a creepy carnival! Or maybe that was a hallucination! Whatever! Point is that Nintendo didn’t need Crash’s crass tricks, it made games that were actually good. I didn’t need Crash and his dumb racing game.

But having now played a remake of “Crash’s dumb racing game”, I am seriously reconsidering my life choices.

So sweetCrash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is the 2019 complete overhaul of Crash’s first racing game, Crash Team Racing. It maintains the original plot, “adventure” trappings, and general gameplay of the original CTR, but is otherwise a nearly completely fresh game. The graphics are all new, many more racetracks have been added, and the roster has now been expanded from Crash’s immediate circle of friends to his entire high school yearbook. Unfortunately, modern gaming conventions like “legendary skins” and “micro transactions” have snuck in, too, but it seems petty to complain about a cornucopia of new content when the only issue is that you literally can’t have it all immediately. Aside from that minor scar on the face of gaming, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a perfect karting experience, easily one of the absolute best of the recent amazing kart racing titles (it’s in good company).

But that’s immaterial to the big shocker of CTRNF: this is my first Crash Bandicoot game, and, apparently, Crash Bandicoot is cute.

Like Diddy Kong Racing, this is a kart racer with a plot. As I expected, the plot is your typical overwrought melodrama about an invading force attempting to conquer the planet, and the only solution is racing, because the X button has to do something. However, what I was not expecting is that the threatening villain is… goofy. I had assumed Crash Bandicoot took its pun-based villains fairly seriously, but, nope, Nitros Oxide is such a clown, his ending involves learning to unicycle. And the boss characters? They may be marginally racist or ableist, but they’re definitely meant to be (generally one note) jokes. Don Pinstripelli Potorotti might have a tommy gun, but he’s not pointing it at the Nintendo Building like Commercial Crash Bandicoot would. And speaking of Crash Bandicoot, he’s less “attitude”, and more… Garfield. He just wants to nap, eventually saves the world through puttering around in a go kart, and then retires to take more naps. That is not the Crash Bandicoot I know! That is not the Crash Bandicoot I feared.

And just when I was thinking my preconceived notions couldn’t be any more obliterated, CTRNF presented a roly poly polar bear for my racing pleasure

Da Bears

So, unlike most of this meandering blog, there is a clear and succinct moral for today’s post. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or, to be slightly more modern, don’t judge a franchise by its advertising campaign. It doesn’t matter if you’re a surly teenager or an apparently still-surly adult: just give the actual game a try. You might like it! Or it might be Shadow the Hedgehog! Whatever the case, at least give the game an honest shot, because you might find you like it.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to grab a megaphone and yell at the Nintendo building that their kart racers suck.

FGC #521 Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

  • System: All the big players of the current generation, so Playstation 4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. Hey, at least the original version was a Playstation 1 exclusive.
  • WeeeeeNumber of Players: The original Crash Team Racing utilized the Playstation multitap for four player action. You stole the one thing the N64 had going for it!
  • Favorite Racer: It might be a bit of a cliché, but I always appreciate the Tails characters in these mascot games, so it looks like Coco Bandicoot wins for being the brains to Crash’s brawn. Or maybe I’m just happy we have a female cartoon character in a videogame that isn’t overtly sexualized. Or maybe I just like the sheer number of rainbows on her signature course. Whatever! Coco wins! Flawless victory.
  • Important Questions: Why does Baby Cortex have facial hair? I was led to believe that was not how babies work.
  • The Aesthetics: There are a number of courses that are outright bathed in neon. This is all I want from my videogame decorating, so please keep it up. If the F-Zero franchise isn’t going to provide some faux-future design, at least we have Crash.
  • Weighty Decisions: If I had to pinpoint one reason CTRNF works as a racing game, it’s that despite all the absurd courses with their illogical jumps and turns, all of the racers feel perfectly weighty. It might just be fantasy animals in go-karts (and one dude in a hovercraft), but this all feels right, and that adds to the general rollercoaster feel of the whole experience. And I like rollercoasters.
  • Crossover Appeal: Spyro appears as a racer, and has his own signature course. This is presumably a thank you for Crash Bandicoot appearing in Skylanders merchandise/the animated series. Considering Donkey Kong and Bowser also stopped by Skylanders, I am now anxiously awaiting Mario x Crash Kart.
  • ZapDid you know? Yes, the basic “story” gameplay of Crash Team Racing is very reminiscent of Diddy Kong Racing. And, yes, maybe the original designers of Crash Team Racing admit to building a replica of Diddy Kong Racing’s Crescent Island course to see if such a thing would be possible on the Playstation. But don’t worry! Crash Bandicoot never ripped off any Nintendo properties!
  • I thought you were over this Crash rivalry thing now? Apparently not.
  • Would I play again: Yes! This is a really fun racing game, and I’m very glad it wound up loaded onto my Switch thanks to an impulse-buy sale. I’ll likely load up a grand prix or two in the near future when I’m aimlessly flopping around on the couch. Sorry, Mario Kart 8, you’ve been dethroned by a bandicoot.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… R-Type Dimensions! Let’s battle that one giant shrimp looking thing that appears in every bit of R-Type art! Please look forward to it!

Watch yourself

FGC #514 Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

LET'S QUESTToday we’re going to talk about videogames and how you engage with videogames. Actually, screw that, we’re going to talk about how I engage with videogames.

This odyssey into madness was prompted by Random ROB choosing Dragon Quest 9: Sentinels of the Starry Skies. You may recall that ROB is now picking games from a truncated version of my master inventory of videogames, so, ultimately, DQ9 was no accident. Today’s game was always going to be picked eventually, as it is fondly remembered as one of my favorite games. In fact, I could toss out a few basic, personal facts about DQ9 immediately:

  1. It is one of my most favorite videogames
  2. It is absolutely my most favorite DS game, which is significant, as this is the system that hosted Flammole the Moleroid
  3. It is absolutely my most favorite Dragon Quest game, and the title that got me to enjoy the franchise after years of issues.
  4. I played Dragon Quest 9 for 197 hours, apparently. Given my general ADD and the wealth of alternative games I have available at any given moment, this is significant.
    That's a lot of time
  5. I never want to play Dragon Quest 9 ever again.

Considering the hours involved, that last point seems… peculiar.

To be clear, this is not a matter of burnout. For an easy example of that, consider Secret of Mana, a game that I played and replayed approximately every other day back in 1994. That was a game that, after I was wholly “done” with the experience (likely because Chrono Trigger was finally obtained), I was in no rush to repeat all over again. I had beaten the Mana Beast so many times with so many different sword techniques that I felt I was good and done with the title. But did I ever play the game again? Of course! Secret of Mana doesn’t hog my entertainment center as often as Mega Man 3 (which sees a replay at least annually), but I’ve undoubtedly returned to Randi a few times over the years. I may have “played out” Secret of Mana in its heyday, but I still feel like lapping up that nostalgia from time to time.

Dragon Quest 9? Not so much. That’s my original save file up there, and, short of a battery disaster, it’s never going anywhere. And why? Because even if I wipe that file, I’m never going to be able to play Dragon Quest 9 ever again.

BOOMIn a way, Dragon Quest 9 is a traditional Dragon Quest game from toe to tip. The basic plot, that you are a guardian angel that is torn from Heaven when a fallen angel decides to go all Morning Star on his celestial home, is little more than a framing excuse for venturing across the planet. There’s an evil empire to quash and apocalyptic demons to slay, but that’s all secondary to whatever you can do to help the next town over. They have a disease raging through their populace? Great, maybe you can kill it with a sword (and you can!). Dragon Quest 9 is a game about heroes tromping across the land, making the land slightly better, buying all of the medical herbs until the land has a shortage, and then saving the land from some manner of jerk that probably has a secret form or two. Start out saving a local inn business, finish up by rescuing God. Tale as old as time.

And, frankly, the most overt change to the Dragon Quest 9 formula here is simply a cosmetic upgrade of the good old days of the franchise, too. After years of well-defined protagonists and their distinct, sometimes dog-riding companions, DQ9 returned to the “generic” party of Dragon Quest/Warrior 3. You can create your own custom hero, and then choose three companions with their own distinct complexions and professions. Want a balanced party of the typical Knight, Monk, White Mage, and Black Mage? That’s fine! Want a party that is four re-headed thieves all named “Mona” for some reason? That’s also fine! Do what you want! There are plenty of memorable characters hanging around the fringes of DQ9, so you can create your own, wholly-silent party at your leisure. And speaking of customization, much of the equipment system and its attendant alchemy system in DQ9 seems tailor fit to encourage the player to experiment and adapt their party in new and exciting ways. Sure, you could make a beeline for all that metal slime armor, but wouldn’t it be more fun to have a character or two in a surprisingly resistant bikini? Or a celestial robe? Or just wholesale steal Alena’s outfit? There are options upon options here, and you could spend an entire day gathering the right materials (“ingredients”) to build the perfect superstar’s suit for your luminary. Assembling the perfect party, in more ways than just maxing out stats, is half the fun of DQ9, and it’s the kind of fun you don’t always see in a game where you’re ostensibly trying to “role play”.

CRAFTING!And, while these “new” features certainly account for why I played DQ9 for a “normal” number of hours, it was DQ9’s other big innovation that accounts for not only the excess hours spent playing, but also why I can never play the game again.

God help me, I loved the social aspects of Dragon Quest 9.

Looking at Dragon Quest 9 from a strictly pragmatic perspective, it was clearly a trial run for the MMORPG that was the eventual Dragon Quest 10. DQ9 eschews the typical DQ experience by allowing other players to join your party as you cooperate and quest across the land. Thus, DQ9 was designed first and foremost as a traditional JRPG, but allowed for a significant amount of wiggle room to squeeze in a guest participant or two. Or, put another way, you didn’t need a raid party to conquer that impossible boss, but it sure would be easier if your level 100 buddy stopped by. And there were more passive concessions made to the concept of making DQ massively multiplayer, too. There were quests that were released on a timed basis (causing players that had “finished” the game to return), timed online shop sales (a great reason to log in routinely), and spot-pass shared treasure maps that allowed you to share randomly generated dungeons with friends… or anyone that happened to be within wi-fi range. Since not all maps were created equal, the most massive multi-playing involved in DQ9 wound up being map swapping with as many people as possible. And regardless of whether or not map swaps were meant to be the most popular DQ9 pastime, these were all baby steps to seeing what people would want (and what the franchise could support) in DQ10. But if you were some manner of DQ purist, you could technically ignore all these add-ons and still have an enjoyable experience.

I did not ignore those MMORPG-lite features. Lacking friends that were interested in Dragon Quest (Smash Bros? Yes. 100 hour JRPGs for handhelds? No.), I drove an hour away to visit a Best Buy promotion where I was told there would be other nerds sharing maps. I got maps. I got stickers. I was a happy Goggle Bob.

Tag!

And it would be impossible to replicate that experience.

I’m not going to claim I’ve never done anything vaguely ridiculous for a videogame. I’m not even going to claim that “driving an hour for a virtual trinket” is really all that crazy. But for me, it was a singular experience. It was something none of my friends were doing, so I was forced to make a solitary trip in search of some cave full metal slimes. It was the logical endpoint of logging into DQ9 every day for sales, and checking frequently to see if a fun sidequest had become available yet. It was a time when I downloaded material maps off Gamefaqs message boards, and skulked around forums looking for alchemy recipes. There was this whole “meta game” that was a significant chunk of my life for approximately six months wherein I absorbed as much Dragon Quest 9 information from as many sources as possible. From that perspective, spending a day driving to a silly Nintendo promotion seems almost… necessary. Be glad I didn’t fly to another country or join a gang or something, Mom!

Not you againBut, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone that understands the passage of time, any kind of Dragon Quest 9 fervor eventually burned out to a mere handful of embers. All the quests were released, network services were discontinued, and, in a few short years, the idea of someone using a Nintendo DS to spotpass became as esoteric as someone using AOL to change their away message. The meat of Dragon Quest 9, the main quest and its many tangential vignettes, is always going to be there and available, but those early, tentative steps into the world of hybrid online/local multiplayer are gone forever. Sure, you can finagle a wireless modem into broadcasting the old DQ network for fun and profit, but it’s not the same. You’re never going to randomly obtain a treasure map by walking around the mall ever again (and not just because the mall closed, too). There’s never going to be another Dragon Quest 9 event at Best Buy.

So, after devoting nearly 200 hours to a videogame, I never want to play it again. Why? Because I can’t. What’s real and true and memorable about that game is gone forever, and it isn’t coming back. May as well save that file full of foreign treasure maps for future generations, and move on to something else.

Dragon Quest 9, you were an exceptional and singular Nintendo DS experience. Rest in peace, and be a beautiful, blue ghost creature forever haunting your graveyard.

FGC #514 Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

  • System: Nintendo DS. One would suppose a modern remake could rectify these issues, but then I wouldn’t be replaying the exact same game, now would I? Dragon Quest of Theseus.
  • Number of players: A whole cosmos of people… but I think only four at a time.
  • It's an innnyHey, some of these screen shots are clearly from a new playthrough: Well, yes, I did give it a try for this article. I preserved my precious save file on its cart, and attempted an emulated run of DQ9, but it only proved my hypothesis: you can’t go home again. And maybe you can’t play DQ9 after DQ11, either.
  • Speaking of Maps: The whole map system leading to unlimited, random dungeons after a game full of carefully created caves is an amazing swerve that obviously accounted for a significant amount of my playtime. That said, I was downright surprised to boot up my old cartridge and find there were a number of maps I never completed.

    Kind of redundant

    I’m sure it was just because I was too busy farming every other map in the game, but those Copper Ruins of Ruin are calling to me…

  • If you liked the MMORPG-lite features in DQ9, why don’t you play more MMORPGs? Every once in a great while, I downright enjoy getting drunk with my friends. However, that does not mean I want to become a heroin addict. I know my limits and addictions.
  • Explain your OG party member names: Robyn is my usual “female” nom de guerre, and appears often in other games. Rydia the green-haired mage requires absolutely no explanation. Felicia was initially a thief class, so she was named after a familiar Spider-Man character. And Misfit was a redhead named for another comic book character, this time a star from Gail Simone’s then-current run of Birds of Prey. I’m not certain if Misfit is still bungling around the DC Universe at this point, but someone should at least give her a try at appearing in one of the CW shows. She’d fit right in!
  • Choo chooFavorite Class: I had to work the hardest for Luminary, so that’s going to win. Also, in a game that somehow enticed me into caring about JRPG fashion, I’m always going to choose the most fashionable class.
  • Retro Challenge: There are a number of maps that feature the final bosses from previous Dragon Quest adventures. Considering I don’t think I had finished a single Dragon Quest game before DQ9’s release (does Rocket Slime count?), all of these bosses were new to me, and generally about as “nostalgic” as any other random monster. And that’s cool! It wound up encouraging me to play previous DQ titles, and now I can identify a Dhoulmagus from fifty paces.
  • Getting Around: The best airship available is a choo-choo. That is the best.
  • Did you know? As of this writing, DQ9 is the only mainline title to not see a revision/upgrade version of some kind. This is a crime.
  • Would I play again: …. Seriously?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania: Rondo of Blood! That’s the good one! Yay! Please look forward to it!

Achoo

FGC #509 Wheel of Fortune

WHEEL. OF. FORTUNE.Forget videogame sex and violence, it’s Wheel of Fortune ports that are destroying the lives of our children.

I speak on this topic as one that was poisoned by Wheel of Fortune at a young age. When I was just old enough to be literate, my mother and grandfather allowed me to join them in playing a wondrous new game for the Commodore 64: Wheel of Fortune. Of course, I was already familiar with Wheel of Fortune, as it’s been dominating the same timeslot since before I was born. There has literally never been a moment in my lifetime that Wheel of Fortune was not available to watch, and I’m pretty sure my grandparents watched it religiously literally until the day they died (give or take a coma that we’re not going to count toward final totals). So, yes, I was familiar with Wheel of Fortune before I ever hit my first F5 key to solve a puzzle. Who doesn’t want to spin that wheel and win fabulous prizes?

And, if I’m being generous, I will state that my parents meant well. After all, I was a young’un that loved videogames, game shows, and was just learning how to read. A videogame that combined all three wouldn’t only be fun, it would be educational. Goggle Bob learn words good from game! And, with my mother and grandfather taking the places of the other contestants (my dad would have participated if he wasn’t such a luddite that keyboards reflexively recoil in his presence), I was guaranteed that kind of “gentle” gameplay that comes from playing a board game with an emotionally handicapped opponent (err… to be clear, that’s saying the handicap the other players have is thanks to their familial emotions, and not that any of my family members are emotionally handicapped [though my grandfather was incapable of experiencing joy from SPINapproximately 1959-2004]). I might not have won every round, but I can certainly say my rivals were giving me more than enough time to solve a puzzle. And if everything didn’t go my way, hey, they could always blame that digital version of not-Pat Sajak to avert a tantrum. It seems like playing digital Wheel of Fortune with my family as a child was a net good for Wee Goggle Bob.

Except there was one tiny problem: I eventually got good at Wheel of Fortune. And, corollary issue: I’m not a millionaire that has experienced a fabulous, all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii.

Wheel of Fortune has received surprisingly faithful ports over the years. Whereas other videogame adaptations created for home consoles have had to make some changes to the source material from time to time, Wheel of Fortune has been consistent. Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor rarely fought dinosaurs during Home Improvement, but it happened in the first level of his SNES game. Nobody ever thinks to grab the dice for traditional family Pictionary, but there it is on the NES. Wheel of Fortune, however, is exactly what grandpa and grandma would expect of a videogame. There’s the wheel, the choosing of letters, and even the later editions include the occasional changes to the television show’s formula. Maybe it’s because the rules are easy to digitally adapt, maybe it’s because Wheel of Fortune Corp. demands absolute fidelity, but, whatever the case, Wheel of Fortune: The Home Game has been unwavering as long as there have been home games.

Which means that if you are good at Wheel of Fortune the videogame, you absolutely should have won thousands of dollars by now. That’s just basic science.

FABULOUSI identified this problem back in my childhood. I eventually gained the swerve and vocabulary to go up against the computer opponents, and, more often than not, I conquered my foes with aplomb. And that felt different than defeating my dear family. In this case, I knew the computer wasn’t giving me a free ride, because AIs were incapable of deferring to the emotional needs of a small child (I would expect a bot to cheat on a toaster’s behalf, but not for a human flesh bag). So, obviously, I was legitimately winning Wheel of Fortune. Hell, I was conquering a computer. I wasn’t a random contestant beating some dork from Idaho, I was John Henry. I was Garry Kasparov. I was Zack de la Rocha… I think. Point is that I had accomplished something every time I won Wheel of Fortune, and I imagined a peripheral that looked not unlike a familiar 5 1⁄4-inch floppy disc reader that would spit out dollars upon dollars after every victory. I was winning! I should have fabulous prizes, just like those winners on TV! Where is my brand new car!?

And it sounds ridiculous, but I’m pretty sure a big problem with my generation is we’re still waiting for those fabulous prizes.

No one is claiming that people play videogames to become fabulously wealthy. Yes, there are ways you can become rich and/or famous through playing videogames, but, unless I missed some amazing advertising campaigns, the latest Animal Crossing isn’t being touted as a gateway the striking it rich on Wall Street. And such a thing sounds absurd, but consider how many activities, coaches, and “academies” are offered to children (and adults!) that claim they will transform Little Timmy into the next Bo Jackson or Madonna (are these references still relevant? I’ve been on stay-at-home orders a while). No, videogames aren’t supposed to bring you riches beyond measure, but they are supposed to bring the player satisfaction. Give or take some desert buses, there are not games designed to be impossible to be completed, and, whether you’re dealing with Dark Souls or Darkwing Duck, you will eventually gain fulfillment from seeing the finale. It is how every game ends, Who are these nerds?but it is not necessarily inevitable. You have to try to reach that finish line, and can’t simply assume you’re going to win like when you’re going up against a well-meaning pop-pop. And nowadays, it’s not a matter of “beating a game”, there are achievements, trophies, and other accolades, online and off, that showcase just how thoroughly you’ve played a game. Want 100% completion? That all-important platinum trophy? Well, get to playing, player. You’re going to have to achieve that achievement.

Admit it: if you go through all that effort for all those achievements, don’t you expect to get something?

There’s no question that people have been cultivating their Gamerscores and Trophy collections for years. There have been occasions when games were released, and they were judged (and purchased!) solely on the basis of how quickly they would allow the player to accrue achievement points. People greedily reap these achievement scores, even knowing that some of those points were distributed for “achievements” like “successfully pressed X” or “generally nudged a controller for ten minutes”. Gamers don’t do that simply for bragging rights or alike, they do that because they think somewhere deep down in their dark gamer hearts that there will be a tangible reward for their accomplishments. They secretly believe that one day a super model is going to saunter on up to the crowd, demand to know who has the most gilded LOSERtrophies of them all, and then throw their clothes off in reaction to that one achievement awarded for riding a chocobo for eleven craptillion steps. Okay, yes, that sounds stupid to say out loud, but how many people actually think their videogame skills are going to have a real, profitable impact on the world? How many people think they’ve put 10,000 hours into a hobby, so, logically, all that hard work and effort is going to pay off? How many people don’t accomplish anything of value for the rest of humanity because they’re fixated on how many imaginary gamer points they can earn?

How many people think they should be millionaires that can win millions on Wheel of Fortune because they’ve already won imaginary millions on Wheel of Fortune?

You want the solution to the puzzle of my generation? Digital Wheel of Fortune ruined us all.

FGC #509 Wheel of Fortune

  • System: Every. Just every system that has ever happened. There was a PSP version, and that’s my qualifier for that statement. There was even supposed to be a version for the 3DO, but it didn’t come to fruition before the system imploded. So I guess the proper statement is that Wheel of Fortune is available for all systems that weren’t instant failures.
  • Number of players: Three is the generally accepted number, but two is allowed on systems that do not contain multitaps.
  • So, what did you play? For the purpose of this article, I played the OG C64/DOS version, the Super Nintendo edition that happened to be handy, and the Nintendo Switch version. The Switch version may have been played with my dear fiancée during a bout of heavy, quarantine-based drinking.
  • And how did that work out? Poorly! I completely failed to guess the proper solution to the following puzzle:
    I DON'T UNDERSTAND

    I am never going to gain fabulous prizes.
  • So, which version is best: Man, who has the time to play thirty years’ worth of Wheel of Fortune games? Let’s just say it is whatever version is most recent, because they apparently soldered a leveling system onto its custom character creator, so now you need to win like sixty rounds before you’re allowed to wear a t-shirt. That’s modern gaming!
  • Fabulous Prizes: For some reason, the vacation you can win in Switch Wheel of Fortune is always France. There’s this lovely pan of Paris, and it all looks very nice, but I would very much like to know what that country did to get featured in a videogame every ten minutes.
  • Did you know? Wheel of Fortune apparently trademarked “America’s Game”. Of course, it seems they didn’t trademark it very well, because googling that phrase will get you nothing but results regarding the football game event that I’m legally not allowed to name. Rhymes with “blooper hole”.
  • Would I play again: Wheel of Fortune is fun! And I’ll probably wind up playing it again on the Nintendo Super Switch U or whatever comes next. Maybe buying games I already own for five bucks over and over is the real prize.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Simpsons Arcade Game! Cowabunga, it’s time to rescue Maggie! Please look forward to it!

Green Hill Zone

FGC #505 Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

The moon does appearConsider this a trigger warning: this is going to be a fairly heady article. It’s going to get personal, too. We’re talking about Michael Jackson, and… yeah, I don’t think I need to further explain what difficult topics will be explored. This is your warning… or something approaching that.

And, to be clear, this is a goddamn shame. We’re covering a game (or two) featuring Michael Jackson today, and, ladies and gentlemen, the jokes write themselves. There is a part of me that really wants to travel the low road on this one, and point out how something like 90% of the content here has aged monumentally poorly. You want some humorous content? Here’s MJ getting railed by some manner of dick-robot.

Right in the beans

Haha! He’s gonna be singing soprano after that!

But, if I’m being honest (and that’s the point of this essay), that’s exactly why I feel I need to be serious here. Yes, a videogame starring Michael Jackson has aged poorly. Yes, that is fairly inevitable with any product starring someone that was a cultural icon (see also some mall adventures). And, yes, due to the details of Jackson’s fall from grace, even a common trope like “save the kidnapped children” is going to be seen in a different light. This is all true. But the important part? The thing that would not stop running through my mind while playing this random Sega Genesis cartridge from 1990 is just how overwhelmingly sad the whole thing made me feel.

When I was a kid, Michael Jackson was my goddamned hero.

Save her!I’ve claimed in the past that my musical tastes as a child were entirely and wholly provided by my parents, who, as children of the 50’s, had more of an inclination to listen to The Big Bopper and The Beatles than Aerosmith. By the time I was a teenager, I learned both of my parents had been actively shielding me from “the hard stuff”, but even the forbidden list was predominantly songs that were golden oldies. My mother didn’t like the idea of me listening to Bohemian Rhapsody even by my teenage years, as it was “a suicide song”, but that was still a song released almost a decade before I was even born. Point is that, for all “the hits of the 80’s” that my local FM station assures me are real, I listened to maybe 1% of what was actually popular when it was prevalent. I think only Don’t Worry, Be Happy was on the approved list…

But, somehow, Michael Jackson was the exception. Actually, I take that back. I know exactly why MJ was an exception: “Weird” Al Yankovic. My parents knew their beloved, gigantically nerdy son, and figured I would enjoy the likes of “Fat” or “Eat it”. Weird Al’s oeuvre was obviously kid friendly, and (not going to lie) it was probably a great choice, as I’m pretty sure absorbing Weird Al’s recurring clever wordplay when I was a child is why I make word choice good now. But listening to a series of parody songs inevitably invites a need to hear those source songs, and, since WAY seemed to have a thing for MJ songs, you can guess what was high on the listening list. It wasn’t very long before I graduated from Weird Al’s Even Worse to Michael Jackson’s Bad (wait… isn’t that backwards?).

And I was in love.

ZOMBIES!I’m not even going to try to define why Michael Jackson was popular with the public at large. However, I can safely point to a handful of reasons why I, personally, liked Michael Jackson. In no particular order:

1. His music slapped
2. Actual moonwalking was fun and easy
3. Music videos that could and would include claymation

However that list does ignore the prime reason I adored Michael Jackson: he was a big damn weirdo.

Look, this is a blog where I occasionally compare relationships old and new to videogames. I have written obscure NES hero fanfic. I don’t think my dear audience believes there was a switch in my head that flipped to “big ol’ weirdo” when I became an adult. I was a weird kid. I had friends, I participated in activities, and I had extremely loving and protective parents; but there’s no debate as to who was “the weird kid” in any given classroom. And being the weird kid? There’s no helping being the weird kid. The dumb kid can get some special educational help, the smelly kid can get a shower, and the kid who pissed himself in first grade can just learn to beat up every other kid by second grade. But the weird kid? You don’t really ever stop being the weird kid. You’re always going to get distracted by Weeeeunusual bird feathers on the ground, or spend gym class planning out your victory dance rather than actually playing the assigned sport. You try not to be weird by carefully noting the last grade you’re ever allowed to talk about cartoons (it was third), but that all falls apart the moment you obviously get excited about the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie. And then it’s noogie time, and you’re reminded that, one way or another, you’re not like everybody else.

Michael Jackson was a universally beloved musical icon. And Michael Jackson wasn’t like anybody else.

Michael Jackson was a star, and he lived his life exactly how he wanted to live it. And this isn’t about residing on a ranch literally named for never outgrowing childhood, this is about his actual performances. He sang the lyrics he wanted to sing. He danced the way he wanted to dance. And he took his performances and personas to some extremely unusual places. He wasn’t content to simply have a “scary song”, he had to produce an entire music video featuring zombies as an homage to old horror movies. He appeared in cartoons when the medium was considered about as culturally relevant as cereal commercials. And if he wanted his own videogame, he got his own damn videogame.

Get in there!Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker appeared in many guises on many systems, but the two main versions were the arcade game and its Sega Genesis counterpart. To be honest, neither game is particularly that good. The arcade version is something of a rote beat ‘em up with its only defining characteristic being a monkey-based powerup that transforms your chosen Michael into a laser-blasting robot. The Genesis version isn’t much better, but is marginally more unique. This is more of a Rolling Thunder/Elevator Action-esque affair, and the caveat is that you have to open like every goddamn window, trunk, and door between Michael and the enemy’s secret base to find the lost children required to finish a stage. There’s a nugget of a good game idea in there, but it winds up becoming little more than Michael Jackson’s hide ‘n seek as he checks every closet in the house for more and more children (… dammit, I said I would avoid the low hanging fruit…).

And, despite the fact that both of these games aren’t particularly good, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker was one of the two reasons this Nintendo kid wanted a Sega Genesis. There was Sonic the Hedgehog and Michael Jackson, and all a Wee Goggle Bob wanted in this world was a system where they were both combined (and maybe a game, too). Michael Jackson, the King of Pop that was also a giant weirdo, was waiting for me there. He liked videogames, too!

And then everything happened.

To be clear for anyone that didn’t live through it, it wasn’t like society declared him cancelled, and then Michael Jackson was forever banished from the public eye. Michael Jackson had always been weird, but now there were allegations. Now there was a reason to chastise the man for doing things that were not simply unusual, but wrong. And not everyone believed it! It was a slow drip of accusations, lawsuits, and the occasional televised “deeper look”. Regardless, Michael Jackson retreated more and more from the public eye, and, by the time he passed in 2009, he was remembered as practically a different person from his 1990 incarnation. Hell, the change happened so gradually, it allowed The Simpsons to go from idolizing Michael Jackson as the most important person to ever visit Springfield…

Michael Jackson!?

To, four years later, claiming Michael Jackson was little more than a mythical, malevolent phantom…

Who!?

A hero had become a villain, and now we’re at a point where MJ has been wiped from the show’s history.

And eleven years after Michael’s death, I’m still not sure what the hell I’m supposed to learn from such an event.

Do I believe the allegations at this point? Yes. Duh. Though, if I’m being completely honest, it took me a long time to get there. Michael Jackson is weird! I believed that people were just taking his obvious weakness for children and childish pursuits and turning it into some kind of pedophilia. In retrospect, that seems almost dangerously optimistic, but, at the time, it was just how I defended my hero. And that was the problem. Whether it be because of my impressionable age, the indoctrination of videogames and media where he was a literal hero, or simply because I wanted to listen to good music without thinking too hard about bad things, I followed Michael Jackson a lot longer than I should have. In retrospect, I regret ever giving the man so much I AM ROBOTas a dime, left alone allowing him to dominate that precious tape collection I always lugged to the nearest boombox. Michael Jackson was my hero, a hero that stood for everything I cared about when I was a certain age, and then it turned out that he was scarring children for life literally while I was supporting him. I was a fan of a “hero” that has victims.

Has this influenced my own life? Probably. I’m not going to point the finger squarely at one Bad individual, but I feel like this is part of the reason I gravitate toward fictional heroes like Optimus Prime or Voltron while leaving the real world behind. Barack Obama is a president and a man I felt I could stand behind, but I could never support the man with the kind of all-consuming dedication I have seen from other fans, because he was and still is, ultimately, a man. And a man has flaws. Sometimes those flaws are making decisions you don’t agree with, sometimes those flaws are literally criminal, but they are still reasons not to venerate any given man or woman. We’re all people, and we should treat every person with an even dosage of doubt.

This is where we are: I play a videogame about a pop star rescuing children from zombies with the help of a monkey, and the only thing I can think of is how we should be skeptical of literally every human on Earth. Michael Jackson ruined the lives of many children. He was not a hero. He didn’t “rescue kids” anymore than he could turn into a robot. But it’s not all bad! There are good people! There are people worthy of praise! They might not be perfect, but there are people that actually save children. You don’t have to worship them, but there are people that balance the cosmic scales, even if not a single one is the King of Pop. We can move on from Michael Jackson.

Right in the beans

And MJ can just eat a piledriver.

FGC #505 Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

  • System: Sega Genesis is technically the version ROB chose, but the Arcade version is also a valid choice that follows roughly the same plot and concept. That concept is that Michael Jackson can turn into a space ship or a car anytime he wants, but chooses not to.
  • Number of players: One on the Genesis, the unusual three in the arcade. You would think Jackson would account for five.
  • THE CHANGEAdaptation: Yes, this is videogame tie-in game for Michael Jackson’s movie of the same name. If you missed out on his cinematic masterpiece, it’s basically a loosely connected collection of music videos and concert footage that includes a miniscule feature about Michael Jackson rescuing children from his former manager/mob boss. It’s worth a look if you’re ever on Youtube and feel like watching something that will make you hate yourself for a solid hour or so.
  • Favorite Level: Like The Simpsons Arcade Game, the third stage inexplicably turns into a graveyard featuring innumerable zombies. Their continual leaps recall Chinese hopping vampires, though, and there are at least two zombies that split in half to rain knives from the sky. What I’m saying is that my favorite level is the absolute weirdest.
  • So, does Thriller play over the zombie level? Nope! Apparently there was a licensing issue, as MJ didn’t write the entirety of Thriller. However, there are some prototype versions of the game floating around that retain the song. Vincent Price doesn’t appear in any version, though, unfortunately.
  • An End: The arcade version sticks to one genre, but the finale of the Genesis game gets a light shoot ‘em up in there for the final confrontation. It is the exact opposite of fun, but it is vaguely reminiscent of that Star Wars game. Oh, and the actual ending of the game is just Michael dancing with a monkey.
  • Did you know? The basic premise of this article is also why I will not be covering Space Channel 5 or Space Channel 5: Part 2. I can only deal with so many Michaels in power.
  • Would I play again: Did I mention that this game is not particularly good? It wasn’t terrible for the early 90s, but it has not aged well in more ways than one. There are a lot of other games I can play that are about 120% less problematic.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Gunstar Super Heroes for the Gameboy Advance! Now there are some heroes we can get behind! Please look forward to it!